By Ganga Nair
SACRAMENTO, CA – Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Helena R. Gweon Friday denied a motion claiming defendant Brandon Small’s 4th Amendment rights were violation when he was arrested on drug charges last November at a 24-hour car wash.
Small faces charges of possession of heroin, methamphetamine and Xanax for the purpose of sales—his defense argues the search itself was unlawful.
Small was represented by Assistant Public Defender Mirayla Freshwater, with Chris Cantrell, a law clerk for Molly Steber at the District Attorney’s Office, for the prosecution.
Silver Paley, deputy sheriff of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. testified that on the evening in early November, 2020, he was patrolling around a self-service car wash in Fair Oaks. Paley would later note, “The basic corridor of the Fair Oaks Blvd. as well as the car wash are areas that are frequented by drug users and those involved in drug sales.”
He testified he then saw a vehicle containing one female and two male passengers enter, parking in one of the wash bays. Small exited the vehicle and walked to the car wash’s coin machine. Paley then approached Small, when the other male passenger exited the vehicle and left the car wash. He was not followed or pursued.
Paley told Cantrell that he “asked him [Small] what he was doing at the location, his name, and spoke to him about the drug use he was involved in.” During this time, Paley’s partner conducted a records check of the female passenger, who was subsequently arrested.
During their conversation, Paley said he “could smell an odor of marijuana emitting from his person.” When asked about this, the deputy said Small admitted to possessing marijuana, and that he had a replica firearm in his vehicle. This prompted Deputy Paley to conduct a plain-view search of Small’s vehicle.
Upon peering into the vehicle, Paley found two containers of marijuana and what he “believed to be black tar heroin on the front driver’s side” which he would later tell Freshwater was a “substantial quantity of a black powder substance.” Deputy Paley then determined based on the circumstances that he could lawfully search the vehicle.
Paley recalled that he quickly “smelled a sharp odor of what smelled like vinegar, which in my training experience was consistent with the odor that heroin omits” and found two containers of marijuana, a BB gun, a scale and a package of what the officer suspected to be black tar heroin.
Paley then searched Small, while his partner ran a records check. The records check found that Small had a misdemeanor warrant. Paley found substantial quantities of methamphetamine, black tar heroin, Xanax pills and $592 within his pockets. The officer determined that such large sums of money and controlled substances were consistent with those who distributed or sold them.
Small was then arrested, and was advised of his Miranda rights. Small then waived these rights, admitting that he gave his friends meth and heroin in small amounts. Paley also told Cantrell that Small sold quantities worth “approximately $2.50 to $5.00 of methamphetamine.”
The substances collected were tested, and found to test positive for black tar heroin and methamphetamine.
The defense, represented by Freshwater, highlighted that the search of the vehicle itself was in violation of Small’s 4th Amendment rights. She argued that Small was illegally detained, by pressuring Small to not leave the car wash.
The subsequent arrest of the female passenger would give the defendant the impression that he could not go. Small’s pending misdemeanor warrant was only discovered after the car was searched, making the search itself unlawful.
Freshwater stated, “If we find that illegal detention has occurred, I would argue that the entire rest of this search is the fruit of the poisonous tree, and would have to be excluded.”
Freshwater continued, noting Paley’s determination of black tar heroin being in the car was not very credible. Thus, the only admission the officer would have would be Small’s admission that he had marijuana, which is legal in California, adding, “It was an illegal search, it was an illegal stop.”
Cantrell refuted Freshwater’s arguments, stating that the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle. Furthermore, if the search of the vehicle were to be excluded, Paley’s search of Small would still be permissible, which “included substantial quantities of heroin, Xanax and meth.”
He concluded that the investigation itself was not unlawful. “Every step of this investigation was fine…it was clear as day,” he said.
Judge Helena R. Gweon ruled on the matter Friday, denying the 4th Amendment violation motion.
Court records show Small failed to appear at his Friday preliminary hearing, as promised, and presumably now has a warrant for his arrest. No new court date is listed.